Nehemiah’s New Shadow: Reading And Rereading The Ezra-Nehemiah Narrative -- By: Ched Spellman
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Nehemiah’s New Shadow: Reading And Rereading The Ezra-Nehemiah Narrative
Ezra-Nehemiah is sometimes interpreted as a positive portrayal of the return of Israel from exile. Ezra 1 begins with a prophetic expectation of return and restoration. However, the conclusion of the book in Nehemiah 13 emphasizes that although the people have rebuilt the temple, restored the walls, and repopulated Jerusalem, they have still failed to keep the demands of the Mosaic covenant. The sober tone of this final chapter prompts a rereading of the narrative as a whole. Rereading the book in light of the conclusion highlights a distinct pattern of tensions throughout the story. A central textual strategy of the author subtly demonstrates the recurrence of pre-exilic conditions in the post-exilic community. Rather than a subsidiary appendix or epilogue, then, Nehemiah 13 represents perhaps the culminating capstone of the composition.
Key Words: Ezra-Nehemiah, mosaic covenant, Nehemiah 13, textual strategy.
“Where do we begin / the rubble or our sin?”1
At the end of the The Silmarillion, J. R. R. Tolkien tells the story of the last days of the Third Age of the fictional world he calls Middle Earth. Whereas this epic history in The Lord of The Rings recounts in sprawling detail the exploits of that age, the same account in the Silmarillion spans only a few pages. After the overthrow of Sauron, there is a time of rest for the people of Middle Earth. “Sauron failed, and he was utterly vanquished and passed away like a shadow of malice. . . . Thus peace came again, and a new Spring opened on earth.” The King of Gondor was crowned and the darkness of Sauron’s shadow was dispelled. One of the final images of the Silmarillion centers on the growth of a new tree: “in the courts of Minas Anor the White Tree flowered again, for a seedling was found by Mithrandir in the snows of Mindolluin that rose tall and white above the City of Gondor.” After the darkness of the Third Age, the White Tree represents the memory of the lessons learned from the War for the Ring of Power. The account ends though, with a cryptic foreshadowing comment: “And while it still grew there the Elder Days were not
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wholly forgotten in the hearts of the Kings.”2
At various points after completing The Lo...
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